Editor’s note: For more online shopping picks covering everything from great brands, gift guides and the best warm-weather blazers and shorts, head here.
A T-shirt’s a pretty simple item of clothing, right? Not too much to think about, certainly? When you look at it that way, any old graphic T-shirt will do. But so many brands and designers are upgrading this simple, iconic item of clothing with richer colors, better fabric and texture, more nuanced details and even wilder patterns that you would typically find on buttondown shirts. And that’s why it’s a better choice in this case to reach for something other than a plain ol’ white crewneck T-shirt or (particularly) a tank top. Some tanks are well-made and definitely work for some guys, but that’s beside the point — a T-shirt or short-sleeve henley just looks a bit better and could even be considered a bit more versatile. Here are five solid (non-tank) options to round out your warm-weather wardrobe.
#1. J. Crew Factory Slim Placed Stripe Tee — $24.50
So this T-shirt will set you back a bit more than paying for a pack of classic white T-shirts — but there’s a reason for that upgraded price tag. J. Crew Factory’s quality is, by some accounts, on par with its elder sibling J. Crew when it comes to basics like this. This tee combines a slim fit with a nice shade of navy perfect for pairing with spring shorts or khaki chinos — the white, nautical-leaning stripe and chest pocket are also subtle design touches that differentiate it from a plain crewneck. Note that Old Navy has a nearly identical version of this piece for about half the price, although you lose out a bit on quality.
#2. Pistol Lake Short-Sleeve Henley — $35
The second option on this list isn’t a plain pocket T-shirt, to be sure, but everyone needs some diversity in their warm-weather wardrobe (this coming from a guy who’s got about three crewneck pocket tees in his closet). And a henley is a perfectly rugged way to break up the typical short-sleeve shirt rotation. This pick from Pistol Lake is as solid a choice as you’re going to get — made from soft, breathable 6 oz. jersey cotton, it’s sturdy and well-constructed. The price is a tad higher than a standard pick, but you support American-made ingenuity and attention to detail.
#3. Buck Mason Navy Crew Slub Tee — $24
For all the talk here about breaking things up visually with a solid chest pocket, sometimes there are, in fact, crewneck options sans pocket that work well. In this case, the navy crew slub tee from Buck Mason combines a slightly wider collar with an inky indigo color and slubby texture for some different visual details. The rounded hem is a touch also not seen on other T-shirts, and it’s got the kind of easygoing vibe that just works in the spring and summer. Its price, again, goes toward supporting made-in-America production, which seems to be missing a lot of places these days.
#4. Bonobos Yarn Spun Heather Printed Tee — $45
A couple of things might catch your eye about this T-shirt — for one, the price is pretty darn high for a basic. And that pattern will absolutely turn some heads (it’s also available in a green floral option). Bonobos is definitely to be applauded for its commitment to breaking away from just making pants; this T-shirt in particular shows that. It’s the kind of pattern that will work for some … and might not work for others. But if you’re heading to the beach or a fun summer party, this is one way to upgrade a plain tee or tank top.
#5. Gustin Pocket T-Shirt 2 or 3-Pack — $28 or $42
Now this next option here is slightly tricky owing to the nature of Gustin’s business model. The San Franciso-based, US-production-led outfit produces runs of items only when they’re 100 percent funded — so if an item funds quicker than expected (or if it doesn’t fund at all — very rare), you miss out on the chance to buy it. However, new varieties of everything from T-shirts to denim are being added nearly daily, so it shouldn’t be too hard to stock up on a 2 or 3-pack of pocket T-shirts. Currently, the company is offering up a 2-pack of black or white pocket T-shirts — that pocket is the ideal way to break up the plain-ness of a white or black crewneck, although something like heather grey would be more versatile when it’s on tap again for the brand.
In any roundup, and particularly ones involving a basic item made nearly everywhere, there are going to be some left out. Bonobos’ Yarn Spun Striped Pocket Tee in a soft-washed red is a covetable choice thanks to that sunfaded color and subtle stripes, and even Buck Mason’s Army Green Crew Slub Tee was tough to pass up. The Slub-Knit Pocket Tee from Old Navy was also a close finisher, but just missed the cut — keep in mind that places like GAP also do simple, affordably priced basics.
What’s your go-to summer T-shirt? Will you be picking up (or have you already bought) any of the above picks?